Maryland National Guardsman released after being convicted of murdering Afghan civilian returns home
FREDERICK, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - A Maryland National Guardsman came home for the first time in nearly a decade on Tuesday after being convicted eight years ago of premeditated murder by a military court.
Derrick Miller of Frederick, Maryland served three tours of duty before coming face-to-face with a suspected Taliban scout, back in 2010. The battlefield interrogation took a turn and Miller ultimately killed the Afghan civilian.
To this day, Miller maintains his innocence, as does his mother.
"It wasn't even a matter of me making it day-to-day. It was a matter of me making it moment-to-moment because my entire world had been ripped away from me," Miller's mother Renee Myers described.
Myers recalled that moment she learned her son was found guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison for his war crime.
"I had a little leather-bound Bible that I held onto through that entire three days and I still have it. There are fingernail marks in the leather of that Bible because I was clutching it so hard," Myers said.
Eight years after that three-day court-martial, FOX 5 spoke with Myers the night before her son's release from the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
"I'm just going to tell him I love him," Myers said. "That I'm so happy to have him back. That's what I'm going to tell him."
The road to their reunion was long and painful. Miller's family racked up attorney's fees, draining them financially. His marriage did not survive his incarceration and his daughters grew up without their father.
United American Patriots (UAP), a non-profit advocacy group, stepped in to assist with his defense. In April 2018, Miller's case was taken to a clemency board hearing where his life sentence was reduced to 20 years. This also made Miller eligible for parole.
In February 2019, his case was presented at a parole board hearing where he was ultimately paroled and released on Monday.
UAP's CEO, Marine Corps veteran David Gurfein, is highly critical of the military justice system. Gurfein alleges prosecutorial misconduct in Miller's case, and others, including witness tampering, lack of forensic evidence and filing the wrong charge altogether.
Gurfein said if anything, Miller's charge should have been manslaughter.
"He was accused of premeditated murder, that was the absolute incorrect assignment of guilt and his sentencing was unjust. So when we have something unjust, it's within our constitution to have the president come out and try to make this right," Gurfein said.
Some major changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice were implemented in 2019, including adjusting maximum penalties and standardizing court-martial panels, and earlier in May, President Donald Trump took action in a strikingly similar case, granting a rare full pardon to Army Lt. Michael Behenna.
The White House declined FOX 5's request for comment on Miller's case and the Department of Defense told us it had nothing to announce at this time. However, prior to the pardon, UAP said the White House requested files on all of their active cases, including Behenna and Miller.
UAP and Myers hope that a pardon for Miller could come next.
"He went overseas and fought in unimaginable circumstances to protect the rights we take for granted when we walk into a courtroom and those things were not in place when it was time for him to be sitting on the defendant's side of the table," Myers said.
A Change.org petition for a pardon continues to rack up signatures, with more than 11,000 at last check. Miller also received support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including the Freedom Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus.